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Isaiah 2:1-5

Lesson Focus

God calls us to study patiently with him so that we might learn how to allow our weapons of conflict to be transformed into implements that bring life.

Lesson Outcomes

Through this lesson, students should:

  1. Understand that God’s desire and intent are that we all learn to work in his ways.

  2. Understand that our learning will take some time.

  3. Understand that one of the ultimate goals of our learning to walk in God’s ways is the cessation of our conflicts with one another.

Catching up on the Story

The book that bears the name of Isaiah begins with a heading that gives us a rough historical marker for the following text. Isaiah, son of Amoz, sees and hears a series of visions from God in Jerusalem during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, all of whom were kings of Judah. The book itself is not monolithic and, as the heading suggests, takes place over a long period of time. During the weeks of Advent, we will read passages from Isaiah that span these long periods.

Through the book of Isaiah are the interactions that Judah as a nation will have with a succession of surrounding superpowers. Each superpower, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and finally, the Persians, will play a part in God’s judgment and restoration of Judah for her sins. These powers, however, will not be the prime movers in the story; that place belongs to God alone.

Isaiah’s first chapter sets the stage for our understanding of what will occur. Judah, the people of God, living in the southern portion of what was once the unified nation of Israel, are God’s children. Yet, God declares, they have rebelled. In this first chapter, Judah is described as less aware than donkeys and oxen, who know and obey their masters. Judah neither knows nor obeys their God and so continues to receive punishment. Their sacrifices are meaningless because of their stubborn sin, and God is tired of receiving them. At one point, God urges Judah to approach him and argue their case before him. If obedience is given, then God will work to cleanse them and make them white as the snow. The chapter ends with Jerusalem being described as a degenerate city full of unfaithfulness. Yet, the chapter does not end on a hopeless note, as God promises to rebuild the city into something great.

The Text

As with chapter one, chapter two begins with a heading that gives a little context for what will be said. Unlike chapter one, there is no time marker, only the description that Isaiah son of Amoz saw the word of God concerning Judah and her capital city of Jerusalem.

In days to come…Isaiah 2:2-3

To be sure, the vision that Isaiah hears is one that will take place in the future. It depicts a scene in which Jerusalem takes its place as the center of the universe because God resides there. Interestingly enough, this grand vision is not a political one in the sense that Judah and Jerusalem return to the economic and military prominence they once had. The picture we get does not communicate Jerusalem becoming like every other important city. The image we receive reveals that Jerusalem will be the blessing to the world that God intended it to be (Genesis 12:1-9) through the faithful teaching of God’s ways.

In days to come, the mountain on which the Temple sat will become the highest of mountains. Of course, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple sat on a high spot, although it could never be said that Jerusalem or the temple mount was the highest place around. At this point, I don’t think that Isaiah wishes us to believe that the physical nature of Jerusalem’s altitude will change in the days to come but that Jerusalem will become a beacon of hope and learning to which the entire world will look. “In that time, Jerusalem will be like a magnet, drawing all the nations of the world toward its peculiar authority” (Brueggemann, 24).

That peculiar authority, of course, is the very presence of God. People of many nations will invite one another to travel to where God is to learn his ways. We likely skip all too quickly over the part of verse three “that he may teach us his ways, and that we may walk in his paths.” In our society, we are accustomed to an overly-accelerated learning curve, with “six steps to this” or “seven life hacks that will drastically improve your day,” all available through the click of a mouse or a tap of the finger on our mobile device. Most of these types of claims are more interested in getting you to visit their web page than they are with imparting any serious learning.

The learning in Isaiah’s vision is the foundational kind, the kind that is slow and involves a sense of movement. The people will not stream to Jerusalem to receive “life hacks” but to receive a foundation for living that requires them to begin to walk in God’s paths. This time of instruction, walking in God’s ways, is crucial if the vision of verse 4 is ever to be realized. God’s word and instruction emanate from the place where God dwells, drawing us to himself so that we might slowly begin to walk in his ways, picking up the life knowledge that is needed to become people who are reconciled to God, to each other, and the world.

Plowshares and Pruning hooks…Isaiah 2:4-5

Verse four pivots to the content of the learning that will take place on God’s holy hill. The people, the nations, who stream into Jerusalem because of the learning they have undertaken will allow their conflict to be judged by God. As we let our hearts and minds be more fully shaped by God's ways, we will become increasingly open to resolving our conflicts according to the Kingdom of God. Often we desire a resolution to our conflicts that inflicts harm on the other. God’s justice, within our conflicts, will work toward the cessation of injury. The context of the beginning of verse four, however, is clear. When we avail ourselves to God's teachings and ways, we can allow God to arbitrate our conflicts in a way that is consistent with the Kingdom of God.

What does that look like? The next lines of verse four depict a scene in which weapons of war are destroyed. As we learn God's ways and allow our conflicts to be mediated by God, we will beat our swords into plowshares. The image that the translation of the word “beat” conjures up is one of a blacksmith taking swords, heating them in fire, and slowly working them into implements for farming. This image misses what the force of the original word implies. The picture here is not of a blacksmith remaking a weapon but of the utter destruction of the object itself. The original Hebrew word itself can be translated in the following way: to crush by beating; to crush fine; beaten into pieces (Brown, Driver, Briggs, 510). The properties that made the object once good for war will no longer be there. The image may implicate a transformation from sword to plow, but in this image, at least, it can never revert to what it once was. The war has been crushed out of it.

This is a picture of the world in which God intended us to live, a world where the natural elements of our lives are not used to destroy or kill but are used to sow and reap – the things that make for an abundant life. The invitation for us to come to where God dwells, to walk and learn, to trade our implements of destruction for tools of life, is here given to us. It’s more than an invitation, though; it’s a promise that God is beginning to make true through sending his Son, Jesus Christ.

So What?

As we begin Advent, we wait, not just for Jesus, but for what Jesus will bring with him. Because we know the end of the story, God’s grand story of which Isaiah is a part, we can read this passage knowing that the beginning of the hope found in these words has already come. If you will, Jesus’ birth, death, life, and resurrection are what begins the process of Jerusalem becoming the highest hill around. God has now, and will again, we believe, made his home among us. Through Jesus and the church, God's teaching has gone out throughout the land, calling all of us to sit at Jesus’ feet and walk in his ways.

Yet, while we confess that part of this has come true, we must wait some more. We have not yet learned enough; we have not yet walked long enough in Jesus’ paths that we are willing to hand over our weapons of destruction so they can be destroyed. We persist in our conflicts, both personal and corporate. Perhaps, every once in a while, after walking with Jesus, we tenuously hand over our swords, but we do not leave them long enough to allow them to be completely transformed. Then, we grab them back, using them again for ill.

Perhaps the waiting we need to do this Advent is not waiting for Jesus to come the first time or for Jesus to return to make all things right again. Perhaps the waiting we need to do this Advent is with Jesus, not for him. Perhaps we must wait patiently, with ears to hear and eyes to see how we have actively worked against peace and reconciliation with our family, friends, and enemies. Perhaps we need to walk patiently in Jesus’ way, hoping that we might fully understand it so that we, too, might allow our swords and spears to be transformed into plows and pruning hooks.

Discussion Questions

Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.

  1. The passage begins with the phrase, “In the days to come…” What days are those?

  2. Think about an important idea, concept, or skill you have learned. How long did it take you to learn it? Have you perfected it? How many people were involved in helping you learn it? How does learning to become a follower of Jesus Christ compare to learning that skill you mentioned above? We’re reading this text at the beginning of Advent. Advent is a season of waiting and anticipation. We wait, simultaneously, for Christ’s first coming in the baby Jesus and his second coming at the end of days. In what way does this passage suggest we should wait for Christ to come again? What should our attitude be?

  3. The result that follows from the nations coming and learning at the feet of God is that they allow God to arbitrate and mediate their conflicts. How might learning God’s ways help us in our conflicts, both personal and corporate?

  4. Isaiah says that we will beat our swords into plows and our spears into pruning hooks. Think about the uses of each of those things. What do swords and spears help us do? What do plows and pruning hooks help us do?

  5. What kind of things might you have to do first before you can hand over your sword to have it transformed into a plow?

Works Cited

Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977),

Walter Brueggemann, Isaiah 1–39, ed. Patrick D. Miller and David L. Bartlett, Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998).